NEW DELHI :
The Indian government will rope in private airlines to evacuate stranded Indian citizens from various countries in the Middle East region under the government's flagship Vande Bharat Mission, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said.
The government recently met private airline representatives to discuss the possibility of such evacuation missions, said the first person mentioned above, requesting anonymity.
All major airlines including IndiGo, GoAir, SpiceJet, and Vistara have offered their services to the government to carry out repatriation flights. At present, only the national carrier Air India Ltd, and its subsidiaries Air India Express, have been carrying out the repatriation missions across the globe.
"The government has been actively planning to involve private airlines for repatriation exercises. This will likely happen soon, probably during the fourth phase of the Vande Bharat Mission," said the second person, who too requested anonymity.
"The destinations in the Middle East where private airlines will be allowed to carry out repatriation exercises are currently being worked on by the government," the person said adding that some of the Middle East countries where private Indian carriers could be asked to carry out repatriation exercises include destinations in United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, among others.
Indian private airlines mostly operate a narrow body fleet consisting of Airbus A320, and Boeing 737 planes, which could be utilized by flying non-stop to destinations which are ideally three to five hours away from India. IndiGo also has few Airbus A321 planes in its fleet which are capable of flying slightly longer.
National carrier Air India operated wide-body planes like Boeing 777 and Boeing 787, while Vistara, a joint venture between Singapore Airlines and Tata Sons, has taken delivery of a Boeing 787 plane, while it awaits several more such planes which are expected to be inducted into the airline's fleet in the coming months.
"We are in the process of evaluating and finalising and will share once the plans firm up," a Vistara spokesperson said.
When contacted, a ministry of civil aviation spokesperson didn't provide comments. Spokespersons of IndiGo, SpiceJet, GoAir, and AirAsia India were not available for comments.
Under phase one of the Vande Bharat mission, Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express operated 64 flights to bring 14,800 Indians home from 12 countries between May 7 and May 14. Phase two of the mission began on May 16.
As part of the repatriation exercise, Vande Bharat Mission, Air India will fly passengers from Toronto, Vancouver, San Francisco, Sydney, Melbourne, Rome, Moscow, Kiev, Frankfurt, Dushanbe, Yerevan, Almaty, Astana, Lagos, Bishkek, Washington, Birmingham, Minsk, and Narita, among others.
Air India Ltd will also operate 70 flights to destinations in US and Canada under the third phase of Mission Vande Bharat, between 11-30 June to repatriate Indians stranded abroad.